Deficit Reduction and the Courts
The Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, P.L. 112-25, provided a blueprint to reduce the federal deficit by over $2 trillion by the year 2021. Unpopular and politically contentious since its passage, the act mandated across-the-board budget cuts in 2013, followed by reductions to the annual caps on discretionary spending (as well as automatic cuts to selected entitlement programs) in each year from 2014 through 2021. The law provides that failure to adhere to the budget caps in any designated year will trigger another across-the-board sequestration.
In FY 2013, sequestration reduced non-defense discretionary spending by five percent. The judiciary, like every other component of government, was subject to the mandatory sequestration, resulting in a $350 million funding cut, which constrained court operations nationwide. Throughout the year, budget negotiations continued to be contentious and resulted in a 16-day government shut-down.
In December 2013, Congress finally resolved the budget battle temporarily by overriding the Budget Control Act and passing a two-year budget deal (P.L. 113-67) that significantly raised the discretionary spending caps for the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years. The judiciary benefitted both years.
- In FY 2014, Congress restored the judiciary’s discretionary funding to its pre-sequestration level of $6.516 billion.
- In FY 2015, the judiciary received $6.7 billion in discretionary funding, a 2.8 percent increase over the prior year.
For FY 2016, Republicans concocted a plan that would allow them to adhere to the BCA budget caps and still rise defense discretionary spending without providing offsets by adding $38 billion to the Overseas Contingency Operations account, which is outside the BCA. Democrats wanted to negotiate an alternate defense reduction deal and insisted that any increase in discretionary defense spending had to be matched by an equal increase in nondefense discretionary spending.
Ultimately, congressional leaders agreed to replace the BCA spending limits with a plan to raise discretionary caps by $80 billion over two years and suspend the debt limit until March 17, 2017. The cap increase − $50 billion in 2016 and $30 billion in 2017 − was split evenly between defense and nondefense accounts, a precondition that Democrats demanded from the start.
- In FY 2016, the judiciary was funded at $6.78 billion in discretionary funding, a 1.2 percent increase over FY 2015 funding. For the third year in a row the judiciary essentially received it full funding request.
Additional information on the judiciary's appropriation for FY 2013 - FY 2016 is available here.